It’s rare that I’m at a loss in figuring out what genre of music I’m listening to, but a few minutes into title track “Der Tod des Cobra Verde” and that’s exactly where I’m at. How is it that an obscure score, to a long forgotten Werner Herzog film, can wield so much power? The answer is the band behind it all, Popol Vuh, and their leader, Florian Fricke.
Popol Vuh are well known Herzog collaborators, scoring most of his films in the ’70s and ’80s, most notably 1978’s Nosferatu. Their blend of Krautrock and ambient new-age won over fans of Herzog’s art films, as well as prog-rock fans who listened to more popular artists like Can and Amon Düül II. In the liner notes, Herzog writes a lovely “In Memoriam” to Fricke, who passed away in 2001; there’s little doubt that the filmmaker owes a lot to Fricke and Popol Vuh for his early film success.
The score to Cobra Verde is ambient and moody. Outside of the main title and a few other odds and ends, you’re left with with a largely instrumental work; the vocal pieces consist of chanting and chorale work, so you might as well consider it all instrumental. At times, the album seems akin to something like Brian Eno’s Ambient 1, especially on a track like the achingly beautiful piano piece “Om Mani Padme Hum.” But it’s songs like the the main theme, bridging folk guitar with Gregorian chant and drums that really blow me away; I’ve just never heard anything like it.
The album ends with a massive sitar and piano fueled buildup, clocking in at just under 10 minutes. I hear a lot of post-rock in this (Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky), the way everything ebbs and flows, creating a solid tension before collapsing back to chorus and violin. It’s a delicate, haunting piece that carries the same weight as the title, just with a different ferocity. It’s a fitting end to this ethereal and otherworldly score.
This album feels like a guided meditation. It’s best heard in one listen, allowing the beginning reverb-drenched chant to fill your head before moving on to the softer pieces; you don’t need the film, the music works perfectly well on its own. The mix is warm without any piercing highs or a muddy mid-range, while sounding great through larger speakers. The vinyl itself had the slightest bit of surface noise but in no way detracted from the listening experience
The picture of Klaus Kinski screaming on the cover is great, but doesn’t really give you an idea of the music that lies inside. One Way Static included an OBI strip on this Record Store Day release, which gives you a ton info about the band and movie. There is an insert with liner notes about Fricke and Popol Vuh, and it truly is a great read. The vinyl itself is “Cobra Verde Green” and looks fantastic; it’s not super transparent and has great depth in the color.
Cobra Verde was a Record Store Day 2017 release; check your local independent record store for any leftover copies. You can also bookmark this link in case they have any more online copies.